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Déjà Vu as Mexico and Argentina reprise their 2006 World Cup clash


When Maxi Rodriguez was a little boy his grandfather noticed he was stronger with his right leg, so he took it upon himself to train his young grandchild in their small backyard, over and over shooting with the left, because it is a belief of the men of Rosario, as indeed of the whole country, if not continent -- that an ability to shoot with both legs is the kind of useful skill a young man should boast.

Some goals cause this kind of information to come to light. Entire nations want to know the details of how the seed was sowed, all the conditions gone into nurturing it. One World Cup ago, Rodriguez scored for Argentina against Mexico in the first knockout match, and in doing so kept his country in the competition -- ending the agony which had been prolongued into extra time. But he didn't just score; he scored a magnificent goal. One that would be edited into network broadcasts of the Best World Cup Goals ever. One that would send hoards of reporters to his home town to apply high investigative craft into establishing how that left foot had developed. One of those goals which, if he never scored again, would guarantee his place in the hall of Those Who Have contributed Beautifully.

"Sometimes I don't know whether to believe in coincidences or not ... It's my turn to talk today, for the Mexico preview. It's incredible" Maxi told a press conference Friday in South Africa, before adding that he has a lovely memory of the 2006 match, but what's gone is gone. "[It's] History now, and we have to write a new one."

But in linear time, we are compelled to permanently rewrite history adding the new to what is already there. We cannot erase the "coincidence" as Maxi puts it, of facing the same opponents at the same stage of the same tournament. Each match, though it should be its own event, does not actually happen in isolation from all our other "knowledge."

This fixture is fodder for the intellectual lovers of the game in both countries; writing in Tiempo Argentino, an Argentine daily, the Mexican Juan Manuel Vazquez appealed to the double-edged sword nature of being Mexican. He claims ambiguities riddle the national spirit; only Mexico can boast both participating in the first ever World Cup match, inaugurating 1930, while also boasting being at the wrong end of the first goal ever scored in a World Cup; the inaugural defeat.

"Last Tuesday they had to beat Uruguay thus avoiding in the same move the nightmare that is Argentina; I say it because of Maxi Rodriguez's hoof which still has us waking up screaming in the middle of the night." Vazquez goes on to say that whereas the historic plea of the Mexican fans used to be "Why again the damned penalties?" it has now become "why again the Argentinians," whereas Mexico's maestro of football literature, Juan Villoro, defined it as two defeats rolled into one match.

But if there is a football fan on the planet that does not feel a quiver when the competition enters the "kill or die stage," let her or him through the first stone. As we progress, so does the certainty that it's all or nothing: all rivals can be therefore deadly. Those who have historically given us trouble make us tremble because of that. Those we have beaten before make us believe that statistically it could be their turn. And new opponents (rarer as the feast ages) should fill us with the fear of the unknown.

Whether recent history has more of an impact than ancient one is not scientifically proven. But it's definitely the case that it's more than just Rodriguez who will walk out of the tunnel with a memory of that game. His current teammates Gabriel Heinze and Javier Mascherano started the fixture in 2006 and both Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi came on before the whistle called it time.

For Mexico, the likes of Carlos Salcido, Andres Guardado, Ricardo Osorio, Rafael Marquez, Gerardo Torrado and Guillermo Franco will all be fuelled by the need to redress the result, which one might add, was pretty tense with Mexico giving Argentina a run for its money. After progressing through the first round in 2006 with beautiful passes and some moments of true brilliance, Argentina played arguably its weakest game of the 2006 tournament against Mexico. Perhaps history will repeat itself and Mexico will outplay Argentina again, and this time the result might show so.

Mexico and Argentina are also linked in another sense, having co-worked extensively; as one of the richest football industries Mexico is a good client to Argentina's exports. Indeed, Franco is in fact an Argentinian who chose to play for Mexico. Perhaps, as a perfect illustration of the duality intrinsic to Mexicans Vazquez refers to, the very first assist this World Cup came from Franco. Ironic then that Franco is now being criticized for his play to the point of cruelty in Mexico. First and last, worst and best, all rolled into one.